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Cloth diapers or disposable diapers: Which is better for babies?

Vani Venugopal Vani Venugopal 7 Mins Read

Vani Venugopal Vani Venugopal


Cloth diapers may have many pros over disposable ones but is it for you? If you are a new parent thinking of making the switch, here is all that you need to know

Cloth diapers or disposable diapers: Which is better for babies?

It's what our mothers and grandmothers preferred for us. And now its back in our lives in a new millennial avatar. Yes, we are talking about cloth diapers.

Cloth diapering has been a global parenting trend in the past decade. Many millennial parents are now opting for cloth diapers over disposable ones, given its many benefits.

Are you wondering what the fuss it all about? Allow us to break it down for you.

What are cloth diapers?

A cloth diaper is basically a reusable diaper usually made from cotton or other natural material. The picture that might come to our minds when we hear the term are those squares of cotton that our mothers used. While these are the simplest versions of diapers, cloth diapers have evolved a lot since then. No more trying to figure out how to fold and tie a piece of cloth around your baby's bum!

The new avatars of cloth diapers are easier to use and reuse and they come in many shapes and sizes. Prefold cloth diapers, pocket cloth diapers, cover cloth diapers, hybrid diapers, all-in-one diapers - there is a whole range of different types of cloth diapers out there. So much so that it can seem overwhelming to a new parent.

However, the concept of cloth diapers is simple. All cloth diapers, whatever type, have two components - an absorbent layer and a waterproof layer. The difference lies in how these layers are built. Some offer removable inserts for absorbency, while in others, it is built in.

We asked Pallavi Utagi, the Founder and CEO of cloth diaper brand SuperBottoms about why new parents should consider switching to cloth diapers. Here is what she had to say.

"Indians, traditionally, have used only cloth for diapering their babies in the form of langots (nappies). However, these are quite inconvenient to manage as they must be changed after every pee. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, are made of plastic and chemicals. A study conducted by Toxic Links in September 2020 found the presence of harmful phthalates in the popular diapers in India, which could lead to long-term side effects on babies. Cloth diapers of today are made of 100% cloth with no harmful chemicals. They offer all the benefits of disposable diapers like long-hour absorbency, dry feel to the baby, and are waterproof. Being washable and reusable, they are very economical as compared to regular diapers and are eco-friendly, too. Essentially, cloth diapers offer the best of cotton langots as well as regular disposable diapers."

Thinking of going for cloth diapers for your baby? Let's have quick look at the pros and cons of cloth diapers when compared to disposable ones.

Pros of cloth diapers

They are better for the environment

A baby, before it gets toilet trained, may use up to 6,000-10,000 disposable diapers. And each diaper takes up to 500 years to decompose. A study by the Down to Earth magazine showed that each baby in single use diapers puts two tonnes of solid waste into our environment (based on two years in diapers). These numbers by themselves are enough reason to stop using disposable diapers.

And it is not all. While all diaper brands instruct users to flush away the organic waste before disposing the used diaper, most of us don't bother. When these soiled diapers end up in landfills, where there is limited access to oxygen, the organic matter begin to emit toxic gases such as methane, which leads to global warming. Disposable diapers, therefore, have serious, long lasting impact on the environment.

Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made from natural materials, are reusable and can easily decompose.

Cloth diapers are more cost-effective

Yes, that's true! It can sound surprising because they call for a hefty initial investment. With babies going through almost 10-12 diapers in a day, you will realistically need at least two dozen cloth diapers to rotate. And that can cost a pretty buck. But in the longer run, they turn out to be less expensive than disposables.

Potty training is easier!

While there have been no studies to confirm this, many parents vouch that potty training is quicker while using cloth diapers. The reason behind this could be that with cloth diapers toddlers can feel the wetness once they've used it. This makes them uncomfortable and encourages them to start using the toilet sooner.

No harmful chemicals

Most disposable diapers contain chemical such as sodium polyacrylate, phthalates, dioxin and others. These chemicals, it's been proved, have negative impact on your child's health and development. These chemicals can disrupt your baby's endocrine system and lead to long term ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and reproductive disorders, according to the study by Toxic Links.

They are better for your baby's skin

Diaper rashes are every new parent's nightmare. Most babies using disposable diapers develop rashes at one point or the other. There are many reasons why your baby might be developing these rashes, including excess moisture, diapers not being changed frequently enough and reaction to the chemicals in the diaper.

Now while there is no research to show that cloth diapers reduce diaper rashes, most mothers swear by it. The reason for this could be that cloth diapers use natural fibers and hence are breathable. They are gentler on your baby's skin than the plastic of disposables. Also, cloth diapers are changed more frequently than disposables because the baby can feel the wetness of a used diaper, this reduces the occurrence of rashes.

"Mothers often experience the issue of babies developing rashes while using disposable diapers. The combination of plastic with absorbing gels and other chemicals often causes irritation of the skin. Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are made of 100% cloth. The absorption is done by layers of cloth instead of unknown chemicals," says Pallavi.

They are cuter!

With many different colors, patterns, textures available out there, cloth diapers definitely win on the cuteness count.

Cons of cloth diapers

Cloth Diapers Vs Disposable Diapers - Which Is Better For Babies?

They call for more time and effort!

There is no getting around this fact - cloth diapers call for more effort. As we mentioned earlier, babies go through 10-12 diapers a day. These will have to be washed, dried, disinfected and kept ready for the next day. If you are using a washing machine, this might mean a few extra loads per week, and consequently, higher electricity and water consumption.

They can be messy

You can't throw out cloth diapers as easily as disposables. This means that If you use cloth diapers while you are out, you might have to carry dirty diapers home with you.

Should you opt for cloth diapers?

While the pros of cloth diapers outnumber the cons, it is decision for each parent to make. Take all factors into consideration before you decide. If you are a new parent, you will have your hands full. Will you be able to manage the washing cycle of baby diapers as well? Can you afford the initial investment of buying the cloth diapers? Ask yourself these questions.

Remember, you do not have to make a complete switch. There is always the option of mixing and matching, which many parents choose. Many opt to use disposable diapers in the first few weeks and then make a gradual transition to cloth diapers. A few parents also prefer to use disposable ones while travelling. Make a decision that works best for your family.

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